Types of Forecast “Meteorologists”

After hearing about the DC region getting “feet of snow” and 30″ of snow this upcoming weekend by the public more than 7 days out, I get frustrated at how hyped storms are that far out. Models have changed significantly since then, and the DC Region looks less likely to have a big snow event. Therefor, I decided to write a blog post about the types of forecast meteorologists. Meteorologists can be like most DC drivers. There are very aggressive ones who like to drive in the fast lane (in the DC area this could be the right or left lane) weaving in and out of traffic. Then there is the oblivious driver, poking his way along as he almost comes to a complete stop at a speed camera because, heaven forbid, you go faster than 10 mph below the speed limit there. You have the same situation with meteorologists. Some go all in with their chips and some bet the minimum. Among these are other categories as well. Many meteorologists fit into multiple categories. Here are the types of forecast “meteorologists” (the term meteorologist used loosely):

Sensationalists:

  • Words like polar vortex, frigid twister, bombogenesis, etc. are used to threaten
  • Hype is the main goal as web hits/ratings matter most
  • All model guidance points to 1-3″ of snow, you go with 4-8″ banking that the storm overperforms so they can say, “we were right.”
  • Usually tend to spend less time verifying the forecast and more time moving on to the next storm
  • Show model runs 5+ days out to keep viewer’s attention even though the meteorologist may understand that there is large uncertainty
  • Gains attention in the short term, but can skew audience’s view in a similar situation down the road. Hurricane Irene and Sandy perfect example. Irene was hyped so much that there was skepticism with strength/track of Sandy.
  • Found in 24 hour news media, national media, and social media because they have to copy Fox News since somehow they are at the top of the Nielsen Ratings all of the time

“Safety First” Meteorologists:

  • Usually agrees with model output
  • Model guidance shows 1-3″ of snow but temperatures will be well below freezing, pointing to higher totals, You go with the 1-3″ instead
  • Waits until the day before the event to make sure models match up exactly before making a general forecast
  • Tends to either overthink situations or not think of certain catalysts that could change the forecast in situations
  • Good if system underperforms, but underforecasting snow/severe event could lead to forecasts being taken lightly. Trust could be lost with audience.
  • Usually found in amateur meteorologists, meteorologists interested in every model run, and weather geeks who do not know much about meteorology

Modelogist” or “Meteo-model-gist”

  • Similar to sensationalist
  • Interested in every model run, including 6z and 18z GFS
  • Finds the model with the most snowfall or most severe storm threat and posts it online or broadcasts it without explanation of risks and confidence. Canadian model and Brazilian meteogram included.
  • Find the model map with the brightest/most threatening color scheme for effect
  • Viewed by most people
  • Trust could be lost quickly with audience if event does not pan out
  • Believe that big snow storm 7+ days out will happen because the Euro has a big coastal storm 180 hours out.
  • Amateur meteorologists, weather geeks who do not know much about meteorology, some sensationalists, and mets/weather enthusiasts who want to get noticed

Climate Change Meteorologist

  • Does not pay much attention to the details of the forecast. Focuses mainly on the aftermath of the impact the storm has on the region
  • Focuses on the global scale more than national or region scale
  • Relates each weather event to climate change.
  • Hurricane Sandy, “polar vortex,” and Super Typhoon Haiyan are overused to prove that global warming/cooling is occurring
  • Some forecast meteorologists who have a strong passion for climate change, politicians who think they know everything about weather/climate, Bill Nye

Overall, there needs to be a medium between the aggressive and complaisant meteorologist. What does this entail?

  • Realistic forecasts that use the knowledge from college/experience to modify what models have for forecast
  • Clarity in the way we present this information so people are intrigued and understand the risks and confidence in the forecast.
  • Try not to post model images. If you have to, explain risks and confidence, too.
  • Keeping the viewer/reader entertained without hyping a situation that has a lot of uncertainty and risk. Keep it fun and interesting (Probably the hardest thing to do)
  • Avoid using meteorological terms that the general public does not understand. Polar vortex was used and it became skewed/misused in the media.
  • Patience. Although your forecast might be the best, it might not get the most views right away. After time, people with trust your forecasts
  • Climate change is a different animal than weather forecasting. A handful of events covered heavily by the media does not need to be analyzed to see how it affects the climate. There are many other factors that contribute to climate change

Most forecast meteorologists’ goal is to keep people safe. Realistic forecasts and clarity in your presentation to the public in an interesting manner is the best way to go about it. Sensationalism will get people talking in the short term, but viewership and trust may decline with the audience. Happy forecasting!